NO newspaper had a news article, feature or opinion column on the anniversary of an event on Sept.16, 1991 which scholars called in the early 1990s the “unthinkable” and Juan Ponce Enrile, “a defining moment of our race.” The last feature article on it was in September 2016 — 2016 in, of all media outlets, Rappler, funded by US outfits that had links to the CIA.
Indeed, most Filipinos would not know what that event I am referring to is. It was the day the Philippine Senate rejected, by a close vote of 12 to 11, the Corazon Aquino government’s proposal to renew the lease of the huge US military bases here.
The US — the world — was shocked by the decision, particularly as Cory — a global heroine of democracy in those days — expended nearly all of her political capital to get the treaty ratified by the Senate, with poll after poll showing that most Filipinos wanted the Americans to stay. “An insult to our race,” Enrile, one of four still living of the “Magnificent 12″*, as media dubbed them. The other three are then senators Joseph Estrada, Rene Saguisag and Orlando Mercado, the latter, however, perhaps as another testament to our changed times, didn’t care to write about it in his column in this newspaper.
It was a demonstration that our leaders called the Senate — derived from the Roman “senatus,” for old man, that is, the “wise” — knew their role in the Republic, which is to stand by their considered views, even if these go against the mob, often disguised as “the people.”
The Senate is an institution supposed to lead the country, even if its views are unpopular. The Senate — I can’t pinpoint when—has deteriorated so much since the days of the” Magnificent 12″ and even of the pre-martial law institution.
Today, the Senate has become — for the politically and not just financially ambitious — merely a platform for seeking the presidency or, as a preparation, the vice presidency. Hence they play to the gallery, following the stand of whatever the polls say is popular among Filipinos. Hence, senators like Risa Hontiveros and Jinggoy Estrada even dub as “traitors” — the former even claiming that they are “paid traitors” — people who disagree with the US-crafted and disseminated propaganda on our territorial and maritime claim disputes with China in the South China Sea, even though it is quite obvious that they are misinformed or even grossly ignorant about these complicated claims.
We have become a nation where nationalism has been sucked out by the US because of its geopolitical interests in our part of the world, with a merely anti-China stance taken for patriotism.
After scaring the Aquino 3rd administration that China would soon invade Zambales after taking over Scarborough Shoal, it signed in 2014 with the US the so-called Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), a euphemism for allowing the US military forces to use not just our military facilities but even our international airports (such as the Cebu-Mactan International and the Puerto Princesa International airports) to act as military facilities and depots for their war material when they go to war.
Even the features of the EDCA are an insult to us: it was signed merely by the US ambassador and Aquino’s Defense secretary, when the old bases agreement had to be ratified by the 24-man Senate. The insult has been repeated in a different way during President Marcos Jr.’s time, when it wasn’t even disclosed who signed the agreement to increase the EDSA sites from five to nine.
The US adjusted to the technological and geopolitical realities of this century and evolved the so-called rotational bases, which were cheaper and more effective with the new defense technologies not requiring huge permanent bases. We chose to dismiss from our minds that whatever their new form and new nomenclature, there are foreign bases on Philippine soil, which, as Enrile correctly claimed two decades ago, were an “insult to our race.” President Duterte was more direct: they are platforms for war, which, if real war breaks out between the US and China, will turn our country into a cemetery.
These EDCA facilities — 50 such sites all over the world now — are vastly cheaper to operate than permanent camps, which require troop barracks, officials’ residences, hospitals, and even American military men’s entertainment facilities. The US troops don’t also have to deal with locals’ nationalist sentiments and social problems such as prostitution spawned by a permanent US military base, as had been the case with Clark and Subic.
This couldn’t have happened just a decade ago. In a statement last Saturday, Rep. Robert Ace Barbers, House dangerous drugs panel chairman, and his older brother, Gov. Lyndon Barbers, offered Surigao to be another EDCA site, pointing out that the province has deep ports that could accommodate the biggest US warships. What’s happened to our country?
There are several factors that make us vulnerable to losing our sense of nationalism. Our elites had never really cut off their cultural ties with the US, with the US being our biggest trading partner until a few years ago, when China overtook it. Many of our elites or their children have migrated to the US and Canada as their second choice, seeing these countries as their new home. I bet that there is not a single tycoon who does not have a mansion in the US (or Manhattan apartment), Spain, and now maybe Shanghai.
Some 5 million Filipinos have left the country for good, while another 5 million have been spending most of their working lives as workers overseas. If your fraternity has so many members leaving, could you pretend its morale has not plunged? EDSA 1 was transformed not into a celebration of a strengthened nation but into a quasi-religious event of Mama Mary and her messiah, Cory, saving her faithful. Our countrymen working overseas can’t help but inflict their children with that “things-government-are-much-better-there” mentality. Our best universities are US-oriented in worldviews and ideologies. Unlike Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, China and the two Koreas, our medium of instruction in school is still American English.
It was the communists that had been an organized force for propagating nationalism, although this was a shallow version required by Maoist dogma. Now they are all but defeated. Satur Ocampo, the communists’ poster boy for nationalism since the 1970s, couldn’t devote a paragraph to his newspaper column commemorating the day when our Senate defied US imperialism, and voted to kick out its military bases here.
Indeed, rather than being nationalists, two senators and the Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Jay Tarriela have been proving true every time they open their mouths on our disputes with China that aphorism by an 18th-century British intellectual: “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.”
*The others were Jovito Salonga, Agapito Aquino, Teofisto Guingona Jr., Sotero Laurel, Ernesto Maceda, Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Victor Ziga and Wigberto Tañada.
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